Omega-3 fish oil is one of the most sought-after health supplements in the nutraceuticals market today, due to the significant health benefits it offers.  It has been shown to have an effect in reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease through lowering blood pressure and decreasing triglyceride levels, as well as being linked to brain development and maintenance.

However, supplementing with omega-3 fish oil is not without its pitfalls.  As fish oil is, you guessed it, derived from fish, and in particular from deep-sea fatty fish, there are always very real threats of contamination from toxic industrial additives and heavy metals.  Some brands of fish oil lack the rigorous manufacturing process needed to get rid of these extremely harmful toxins, and the accumulation of these impurities in the human body can negate any beneficial effects of ingesting omega-3 fish oil, and may even make taking the supplements more harmful than good.  As well, many off-the-shelf fish oil supplements contain minimal amounts of omega-3 fish oil, making their health benefits dubious.

Luckily for consumers, the International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS) exists as a benchmark to guide consumers into making intelligent, informed decisions about which fish oils to purchase.  IFOS is a third-party independent testing system that rates Omega-3 fish oils based on five highly rigorous criteria.  Some criteria differ based on the health supplement class the testing product applies for, but the requirements for low pollution levels remain the same across the board.

All classes share the following low contamination standards:

  • Passes all CRN/WHO testing categories
  • Oxidation levels less than 75% of CRN Standard
  • PCB levels less than 50% of CRN Standard
  • Dioxin and Furan levels less than 50% of WHO standard

In addition, there are class-specific requirements.  For those categories most relevant to the average consumer, these include:

Products placing in the ultra-refined category (highest grade)

  • Greater than 60% Omega-3 EPA and DHA concentration

For the natural-grade product category

  • Omega-3 concentration consistent with label claim (usually around 18% EPA and 12% DHA)

For the combination products category

  • Confirmation of label claim for all active ingredients (usually contains only small amounts of Omega-3, since other active ingredients are also used for a specific purpose, e.g. omega-3 and lutein for eye health)

For the kids’ product category

  • Confirmation of label claim for all active ingredients (in the kids’ category, the product will get a star as long as it contains the minimal amount of DHA Omega-3)

Unless you require an Omega-3 product targeting a specific ailment and would, therefore, need something from the combination products category, it is generally best to purchase Omega-3 supplements belonging to the ultra-refined product category, since these contain the highest levels of omega-3 DHA and EPA.  Compared to non-certified products that may contain Omega-3 as low as less than 10%, it is a much safer bet to buy an IFOS certified product.  The cost of doing so may be slightly higher, but when it comes to your health, why spare the extra few dollars?  Besides, recent studies have clearly indicated that low-dose supplementation of DHA and EPA have little-to-no effect on the user’s health (see a Danish study published by The New England Journal of Medicine here for one such example).

So, in order to buy the most effective and pure Omega-3 fish oils, consumers should consider buying only those certified with the IFOS rating system.  This way, their supplements are not only ensured against significant amounts of toxic contaminants and pollutants, but they also receive a guaranteed minimum amount of omega-3 oil in their supplement.

This article was written by Tracy Gu, for Nutralab Canada.  Nutralab Canada offers Omega-3 fish oil that has repeatedly received a full 5-star rating from the IFOS for the ultra-refined product category.  Nutralab Canada offers a complete one-stop-shop for all your contract manufacturing and private label needs, including contract manufacturing for dietary supplements.  Contact us today at 1-866-446-6766 toll-free or 905-752-1823 local, or visit our website for more information.

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